Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Teacher for the visually impaired received distinguished award

Jacqueline Otwell, a teacher of the blind and visually impaired who works from Liberty High School, recently won the Distinguished Educator of the Blind Children award from the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. She will be recognized at the organization’s state convention held Friday through Sunday in Ocean City.

Otwell, who has worked for Carroll County Public Schools since 2003, talks about her experiences teaching students who are visually impaired.

Q: How did you decide to become certified as a teacher of the visually impaired?

A: It’s kind of an interesting story. I was a special education resource teacher at Hampstead Elementary and had the opportunity to work with a student there who was a Braille reader and Ray Peloquin, a teacher of the visually impaired as well.After working with him and [the student] for a few weeks, [Peloquin] had told me about a scholarship opportunity, because there was a shortage of teachers of the visually impaired in Maryland.

I applied for the scholarship and received it, and actually, the day I finishedhe program — Dec. 15 [2006] was the day the program was finished — there was a job posting for a position for a teacher of the visually impaired in Carroll County.

Q: Do you teach students of all ages?

A: Birth to 21. Right now I work with infants and toddlers, elementary and high school students.

Q: How many students would you say you work with on a regular basis?

A: Right now I work with seven students. But that can always change, because case loads fluctuate.

Q: Why were you interested in teaching students who are blind?

A: I like working with kids, and I had enjoyed the experiences I had working with this student, and I saw a scholarship opportunity. It’s just like any other position and they feed off motivation.

Q: So what are some of the differences with teaching a student who’s visually impaired?

A: You have to use more senses to help them learn. You’re going to use tactual senses, auditory senses … versus with a lot of students, they learn visually. And with that particular population, that’s not going to be your emphasis.

Q: What are some of the new technologies that have assisted with teaching students who are blind?

A: There’s a wide range of technologies available. They keep coming out.There’s the BrailleNote — that’s like a PDA. And that’s a really powerful tool because it can be used like a word processor [and] they can access the Internet.Some of the other technologies are the Victor Stream, which is like an MP3 player for someone, and that allows you to take notes, play books and listen to music. So that’s a really powerful tool as well.

Q: What would you say is the most rewarding thing about your job?

A: Promoting independence, I think, and watching them grow, just like all of the other students I’ve ever taught. That’s the exciting part.Primarily, I work with the high school students, so it’s a little bit different. Before I was in elementary school and you could get really excited just because of their maturity level and seeing independence and growth.

Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles for your students?

A: I don’t know if you even want to say obstacles. I just think it’s different learning styles. And they need to educate others as to what their needs might be.I think sometimes teachers will refer to, for their visual learners, as papers being ‘Oh, get out your yellow paper.’ You just really need to read the title for that [visually impaired] student. So I just don’t want to say it’s obstacles. It’s just a different way of thinking.

Reach staff writer Karen Kemp at 410-857-7890 or karen.kemp@carrollcountytimes.com.


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